The Carolina Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina opened on March 7, 1927. It was designed by R.E. Hall as a pseudo-atmospheric theater. The interior design was made to resemble a Spanish patio, but unlike a typical atmospheric theatre with its dome ceiling painted like the night’s sky, the Carolina has a coffered ceiling with murals on the side walls depicting a Mediterranean sky. The 1,800 seat theater was part of the Publix Theatres Corporation, which later became Paramount. Publix’s motto was “One of The Publix Theatres,” meaning that each of their theaters were held to a very high standard. It was built for $600,000, or around $8,276,000 when adjusted for inflation.
Opening day consisted of a screening of the silent film “A Kiss In A Taxi,” starring Bebe Daniels, a vaudeville act from the B.F. Keith circuit and a formal presentation by then-mayor D. M. Abernethy. Over the years many famous performers visited the Carolina, including Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Katherine Hepburn and Elvis Presley.
In 1938 the theater was updated with new projectors, sound equipment and larger seats. As part of the renovation the original murals were replaced with new ones on acoustic tiles. The new acoustic tiles helped with film sound clarity, since the theater was built before “talkies” were the norm. It underwent another renovation in December 1961 when it became a Cinerama Theatre. Cinerama was a widescreen projection system that involved using three synchronized 35mm projectors on a very wide, curved screen. Films shown in Cinerama Theaters had programs, assigned seating, and encouraged people to dress up to see the show.
The Carolina closed on November 27, 1978 after a showing of “The Fist of Fury,” starring Bruce Lee. Almost two years later on November 13, 1980 a fire was started in the stage area. Luckily, the fire curtain was still intact and saved the auditorium from being damaged. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission designated the Carolina a historic landmark in September 1982. During the years the theater was dormant there were a few restoration proposals. One such plan was City Fair, a project that would have converted the theater into a performing arts center with conference space in between shows. The City Fair project was announced in May 1987, and work began on the theater a few months later. The developers petitioned the city to delist the theater from the national historic register because the steel beams for the restaurant portion of the complex would not fit through the lobby, so they needed it to be demolished. The city agreed and the lobby was demolished in 1988. A few months later the project came to a halt when the developers ran out of money.
In April 2013, the city of Charlotte sold the theater to the Foundation for the Carolinas for $1. The Foundation for the Carolinas (FFTC), a charitable foundation located in North Carolina whose headquarters is located adjacent to the theater, intends to renovate the theater and use it as a performing arts center. In October 2014 the Belk Family gave FFTC an $8 million dollar gift to go to the restoration of the theater. In honor of that gift the complex will named Belk Place and the theater will be known as the Carolina Theatre at Belk Place. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 with the theater currently slated to reopen in late 2018.
6 thoughts on “Carolina Theatre Charlotte, NC”
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I was so pleased to see the great shots of the Charlotte Carolina (a sister theater to the Carolina in Greensboro?). That theater also had a rocky past, but is up and running and fully restored. Perhaps in a couple of years I’ll wander down to N.C. and see them both! Beautiful compelling work–thanks for what you do.
What became of the Wurlitzer organ? (Where are pipes, windchests, console, etc.)
Not sure. This was all I could find about the organ.
The Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. Opus 1495 (1926)
It is now Oct. ’18. Making any progress? I am not hearing/reading any news about the Carolina Theater.
The curious notch in the front of the balcony was made so that the light beams from the three Cinerama projectors (located under the balcony) could reach the giant curved screen. Since the projection booth was located there, one could easily look into it to see the projectionists changing reels during intermission, etc.